Throughout history, artists have utilized their craft to take action and influence social justice. Art in many ways is the highest expression of culture, the human experience, and the desire for change. The impact of such works on societies can be powerful and enduring.
Project 562, created by acclaimed photographer Matika Wilbur, is a national documentary project dedicated to photographing contemporary Native America. This project works to counteract stereotypical images of American Indians by creating positive indigenous role models from this century.
The 2010 U.S. Census shows approximately 5.2 million Native Americans living in the United States. Despite the success and diversity of Native Americans, misleading and stereotypical images are perpetuated through mass media. Project 562, the first undertaking of its kind, will dramatically change that.
Matika Wilbur is gathering original photographic images and oral narratives from all Native communities throughout the United States, organizing and presenting compelling portraits and stories from elders, culture bearers, linguists, teachers, activists, artists, professionals, and other contemporary Indians. When the project is complete, it will serve to educate the nation and shift the collective consciousness toward recognizing our indigenous communities.
Matika Wilbur ( Swinomish and Tulalip ) is a photographer and activist who created Project 562. Her mission is to humanize and share the stories that Native Americans would like told. Wilbur believes that "the time of sharing, building cultural bridges, abolishing racism, and honoring the legacy that this country is built on is among us. My goal is to represent Native people from every tribe. By exposing the astonishing variety of the Indian presence we will build cultural bridges, abandon stereotypes, and renew and inspire our national legacy." Wilbur has driven more than a quarter million miles across the United States to meet with Native people. She says, "to meet people in their own ancestral homelands, to arrive and walk and sleep and join them where they have been for millennia, is so deeply affecting and important in getting right what we are doing."
Dr. Adrienne Keene ( Cherokee ) is a graduate of Harvard University and currently a postdoctoral fellow in Native American studies at Brown University.
Dr. Keene observes that Native cultures are often thought of as existing only in the past. Why is this idea problematic?
Why would Native Americans object or be offended when people dress up as Native Americans for Halloween?
Pend d'Oreille Elder Stephen Small Salmon is a fluent speaker of Salish and works at the N'kwusm Salish Language School in Montana.
If you were forced to communicate without using your own language, how would that impact your ability to express your ideas, beliefs, and values?
People's ways of living, their histories, and their philosophies are all understood and communicated through language. How does Steven Small Salmon's story display agency of Native Nations to reclaim and preserve authentic identity and culture?
Raymond Mattz ( Yurok ) was arrested nineteen times for fishing on the Klamath River in California. He brought his case all the way to the Supreme Court and set a precedent for the Judge Boldt decision.
The painting, The First Thanksgiving depicts and reinforces an incomplete and romanticized history. What roles do iconic images like this have in building a narrative of the American story and shaping views of Native Peoples and their histories?
Even though Raymond Mattz and other Native Americans of the time were important leaders in the fight for civil rights during the twentieth century, their efforts are not widely known. How might it impact Native communities when their actions for justice are left out of the history books?
Why do you think incomplete or incorrect narratives of the American story persist? Whose responsibility is it to correct the narrative?
Frank Waln ( Sicangu Lakota ) is an award-winning hip-hop artist and recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship . He currently performs nationally and internationally, offering inspiring indigenous messages of hope and resiliency.
Waln discusses the outlawing of Native ceremonial practices. Why would people practice their culture despite the possibility of arrest?
Waln's work spreads a message of love for culture, community, and ceremony. How might common practices like the "tomahawk chop" undermine Waln's message?